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The last time Andrew Bilodeau was the Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year, his team’s season ended with a win. It also ended with heartbreak.

Three years ago, Manasquan – and 12 other boys basketball teams that won their last game of that season – were robbed of their chance to finish the season with an NJSIAA Group championship or better by the explosion of the COVID pandemic that canceled parts of the group semifinals and the entirety of the group finals and Tournament of Champions.

Missing out on a chance to continue a 31-1 season and take a shot at a nationally-ranked Camden team in Toms River has made Bilodeau and the members of his program appreciative of every opportunity and three years after that crushing disappointment during an uncertain time around the world, the Warriors savored every stop during a season of seized opportunities.

Manasquan lost three games by Jan. 2 and went 23-1 the rest of the way, collecting a third Shore Conference Tournament title in three years and capturing the program’s first ever NJSIAA Group II championship. Bilodeau’s team had already set a high bar in recent years and this year’s group still found a way to raise it – the defining characteristic of Bilodeau’s 2023 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year résumé.

Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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Bilodeau did not take over a lost cause program in 2008-09 by any stretch of the imagination and the progress the program has made under his watch has been a slow burn that has reached a boil during the last four year. Just prior to Bilodeau's arrival, Manasquan went to the NJSIAA Group II championship in 2004, then reached the Shore Conference Tournament championship in 2005, but lost both championship games.

In his first season, Bilodeau led Manasquan to a Central Jersey Group II championship game and while it would take half-a-decade to win the second, it was the start of an impressive state tournament résumé.

Since failing to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament with a young team in 2010-11, Manasquan has now been to the quarterfinal round of the SCT in each of the last 12 seasons – a streak that includes the shortened 2021 season in which the Warriors went 12-0 and won the truncated Shore Conference postseason tournament.

Manasquan boys basketball coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Manasquan boys basketball coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
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Manasquan regained the Central Group II title in 2015, which began a run of five sectional titles in eight years – which, again, could very well have been six in eight years had there been a 2021 NJSIAA Tournament.

So if we are talking about the 2022-23 Manasquan season, what does the history lesson have to do with the job Bilodeau did this season? All of the program’s accomplishments – many under Bilodeau’s watch – set Manasquan up with extremely high expectations: the Warriors have reached every Shore Conference Tournament final since 2019 and won in both 2020 and 2021; they have won every sectional championship they have played for since 2019; and in the past four seasons, they averaged fewer than three losses per season.

Those expectations are nearly impossible to meet and for this particular group, there was more a different kind of hunger that was not there a year ago. With an all-new starting lineup in 2021-22, Manasquan tasted defeat in both the Shore Conference Tournament final and NJSIAA Group III semifinals.

A group with a lot still left to prove in order to live up to the accomplishments of the teams from 2019-20 and 2021 not only did what those teams did; it went no Manasquan team has ever gone.

First, the Warriors bounced back from a December loss to St. Rose and avenged that defeat with a 41-37 victory over the Purple Roses – effectively clinching a tie for first place with St. Rose for the Shore Conference Class C North division championship.

That was enough to get Manasquan the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament and the Warriors validated that position by rolling to their third championship in three years. Manasquan’s four-game stampede to the title was one of the more dominant ones in recent memory, with the Warriors winning each of the four games by at least 15 points and by an average of 21.25 points per game.

The conference title was a significant step for a group of players that mostly watched Manasquan win its last Shore Conference championship in 2021, but there was still history left to be made.

Manasquan boys basketball coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Manasquan boys basketball coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
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Manasquan again won the Central Jersey Group II championship for its fourth straight sectional championship, but this one was unique. For the first time since Bilodeau arrived, the Warriors won the sectional championship game in their opponent’s gym. The 2009 sectional finals were all decided at neutral sites and in each of Manasquan’s past four championship seasons, it clinched the trophy on its home court.

This time around, the Warriors invaded South River and took down a 26-win No. 1 seed that had assembled an impressive résumé over the course of its best season since winning its last sectional title in 1991. The win came despite some issues making layups in the first half, with Manasquan still taking a five-point lead into the second half and holding it until the end for a 60-52 victory.

The group semifinals – whether Group II or Group III – have been Manasquan’s Krypotonite over the last decade and this year, another young team stood between the Warriors and their first group final appearance since 2004. Middle Township and its senior-less starting lineup pushed Manasquan to the limit, but the Warriors prevailed in a 46-43 slugfest to clear what turned out to be the highest hurdle on their way to history.

In the Group II championship game at Rutgers University, Manasquan put on a clinic. The offense took a half to get warmed up, but the defense dominated for all 32 minutes in a 62-29 rout of Caldwell that clinched Manasquan its first ever NJSIAA group championship.

Manasquan boys basketball coach Andrew Bilodeau with his coaches and players moments after winning the NJSIAA Group II championship. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Manasquan boys basketball coach Andrew Bilodeau with his coaches and players moments after winning the NJSIAA Group II championship. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
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The school's first ever state championship capped a special year for the team and its coach, who won his 400th career game with a 38-35 win over Saddle River Day during the regular season. Bilodeau, who previously coached boys basketball at Manchester and Toms River North, currently owns a career record of 417-129.

Bilodeau made a promise to his team that if they won the group championship, he would join them for their daily swim in the ocean – a ritual that the players took on during the season amid an unseasonably warm winter in New Jersey.

Unseasonably warm or not, Bilodeau, his staff (Ryan Ritchey, Colin Eldridge, Sean Fitzgerald and Matt Malc) and his players felt the deep chill of the Atlantic Ocean just hours after making history. For a program that has made winning routine, the Warriors made sure to make the triumphant ending to 2022-23 a moment to remember.

 

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